The research based benefits of music for walking

The Bottom Line

  • Walking speed is a reflection of health and fitness and is a good predictor of how well and how long you may live.
  • Although your walking ability can change with age, you can take steps to avoid or minimize mobility problems.
  • Research shows that walking to a steady beat or music helps improve walking speed, stride length, walk rhythm and symmetry.

When you’re walking and you hear a catchy song, does the music encourage you to step up the pace so that you’re moving in time to the beat? If so, that’s good! Walking speed and “gait” (pattern and manner of walking) are important for optimal aging (1;2). Whether you realize it or not, you may be training yourself for a longer, healthier and more active lifestyle by listening to music while you walk.

Walking ability is one of the many changes affected by aging. Your pace may drop and your steps become shorter and less certain (3;4). These changes can lead to decreased mobility, a decline in quality of life, and increased risk of falls and serious injury (1;2). Walking speed reveals a lot about your overall health and energy and is a good predictor of how long you will be able to stay active, mobile and to live well independently in the community (5). Studies have also shown a connection between walking speed and how long you live (6).

But don’t accept a change in walking ability as part of normal aging! You can “take steps” to avoid or minimize mobility problems and one interesting approach for improving walking speed, strength and coordination involves walking in time to a steady beat (7;8). Sounds simple enough, but will it really help?

What the research tells us

Lace up those shoes and turn on the tunes! Research shows that walking to a steady beat or music helps improve walking speed, stride length, walk rhythm and symmetry (7;8). These encouraging results are supported by other studies about the benefits of music, particularly for people who have had a stroke (8;9).

How fast should you be able to walk? Older adults should be able to manage most day to day activities – including safely crossing a two-lane street – with a walking speed of about one metre per second, or about 10 seconds from one side of the street to the other (10).

Check out this blog for more information, including usual walking speeds for men and women at different ages and tips for how you can test your own walking speed:

How fast should I walk to cross the road safely? Fast facts about walking speed

Worried you might be falling behind? Try picking up the pace and lengthening your stride by matching your steps to a steady tempo. You can literally “walk to the beat of your own drum,” but an iPod or similar small electronic device will be a lot less cumbersome! Choose music you like with a distinct and steady rhythm, making sure the volume still allows you to hear traffic and other noise around you. Then, go out and enjoy your walks even more knowing you are taking steps towards better health and longevity.

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Author Details


  1. Hortobagyi T, Lesinski M, Gabler M, et al. Effects of three types of exercise interventions on healthy old adults' gait speed: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2015. 45(12) :1627-43. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0371-2. 
  2. Gine-Garriga M, Roque-Figuls M, Coll-Planas L, et al.  Physical exercise interventions for improving performance-based measures of physical function in community-dwelling, frail older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014; 95(4): 753-769. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2013.11.007. 
  3. Chui K, Hood E, Klima D. Meaningful changes in walking speed. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2012; 28(2):97-103. doi: 10.1097/TGR.0b013e3182510195.
  4. Lusardi M, Chui K. Is walking speed a vital sign? Absolutely. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2012; 28(2):67-76. doi: 10.1097/TGR.0b013e31823d7b9f.
  5. Abellan van KG, Rolland Y, Andrieu S et al. Gait speed at usual pace as a predictor of adverse outcomes in community-dwelling older people: An International Academy on Nutrition and Aging (IANA) Task Force. J Nutr Health Aging. 2009; 13(10):881-889.
  6. Studenski S, Perera S, Patel K et al. Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA. 2011; 305(1):50-58. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.1923.
  7. Nascimento LR, de Oliveira CQ, Ada L et al. Walking training with cueing of cadence improves walking speed and stride length after stroke more than walking training alone: A systematic review. J Physiother. 2015; 61(1):10-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2014.11.015. 
  8. McGee WL, Clark I, Tamplin J et al. Music interventions for acquired brain injury. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017; Issue 1. Art. No.: CD006787. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006787.pub3. 
  9. Peurala S, Karttunnen AH, Sjögren T et al. Evidence for the effectiveness of walking training on walking and self-care after stroke : A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Rehabil Med. 2014; 46(5):387-399. doi: 10.2340/16501977-1805.

  10. Andrews AW, Chinworth SA, Bourassa M et al. Update on distance and velocity requirements for community ambulation. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2010; 33(3):128-34.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.